On December 12, 2014, we were at a performance at New York’s Museo del Barrio of Xavier Montsalvatge’s El gato con botas produced by the Gotham Chamber Opera. Gotham was founded in 2001 by its artistic director and conductor, Neal Goren. The company fills an important and neglected niche in the repertoire: the small-scale rarity from the Baroque to the present that can only be gratefully framed by an intimate venue. In fact, Gotham has no home of its own. It moves from site to site, choosing a context that suits the subject of the work. In the past thirteen years, Gotham has offered Haydn’s Il Mondo della luna at the Hayden Planetarium, Daniel Catán’s La hija de Rappaccini in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This fall, Gotham mounted a double bill of operas by Bohuslav Martinů, Alexandre bis and Comedy on the Bridge, and this spring, the company will return to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from March 27-29 for The Tempest Songbook, a compilation of music of Henry Purcell and Kaija Saariaho.
Xavier Monsalvatge was a Catalan composer born in 1912; he died in 2002. New York concert-goers will be most familiar with his haunting lullaby, “Canción de cuna ,” so often programmed by recitalists, and so memorably by Victoria de los Angeles and Montserrat Caballé. Here is Teresa Berganza’s utterly beguiling 1964 version. At the time of this composition, close to the date of the 1948 Barcelona premiere of El gato, Montsalvatge’s work was strongly reflective of West Indian/Cuban influences.
The 2014 El gato con botas is a revival of Gotham’s very successful 2010 production at the New Victory Theater. Moisés Kaufman (director of The Laramie Project and I Am My Own Wife) and his Tectonic Theater Project, collaborated with the Blind Summit Theatre to achieve a seamless joining of puppets and live performers. The most memorable scene featured an ogre capable of rearranging the parts of his body. In a clear echo of Das Rheingold, where Wotan and Loge trick Alberich into transforming himself into a toad, Puss captures the giant monster he has goaded into becoming a rat. The puppets, some manipulated by a team of puppeteers as in Japanese Bunraku theater (a technique adopted by the Metropolitan’s 2006 Madama Butterfly), some strapped to the singers’ bodies, were the ideal solution for the fairy tale source, “Puss in Boots.”
This short excerpt was film in Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu during the 2011-12 season. Here there are no puppets. The singers and dancers are dressed in animal costumes.